Does Mt. Rainier need a better name?

And while we're cleansing ourselves of British imperialism, how about taking the British out of Columbia?
Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier Walter Siegmund / Wikimedia Commons

There was some interesting response to my Salish Sea story. Douglas Todd, who writes enviably on "religion, morality, politics, sex, death, God, love, meaning and all things that matter" for the Vancouver Sun, pointed out that he has recently raised the issue of renaming British Columbia. There are some who apparently think it's a bit too colonial and makes the province sound like a kind of banana republic. Naturally, the idea has sparked controversy. Some bristle at the idea of political correctness; others have proposed new names ranging from Hong Delhi and Canasia to North Cascadia, Bongland and Pacifica.

Taking the British out of the Northwest is not a new idea on the American side of the border and goes to a question raised by a commenter who wonders about reviving the effort to rename Mount Rainier. According to James W. Phillips in Washington State Place Names, the first white to sight the mountain was Captain George Vancouver in 1792. He named it for the highly regarded British Captain (and later Admiral) Peter Rainier, who was most notable for kicking colonist butt during the American Revolution and for the vast fortune in prize money he won in India.

As someone once pointed out, Mt. Rainier is perhaps the largest feature in America named for a former enemy combatant of the United States. An interesting footnote is that Rainier was also connected by marriage to the Royal Navy's Vashon and Baker, namesakes of the Puget Sound island and Cascades volcano. An interesting account of Rainier's career and the naming of the mountain can be found in one of my favorite bedside books, British Columbia Coast Names: Their Origin and History by Captain John T. Wallbran, a volume that delivers much more entertainment than its name suggests. It was first published in 1909. When famed author Patrick O'Brian visited the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s to talk about his popular sea stories, I gave him a copy of Wallbran's classic and it was graciously received, though he never found a way to bring his beloved Aubrey and Maturin characters to the Pacific Northwest.

I checked with the Washington Board of Geographic Names to find out whether the renaming of Rainier is anything but a dead topic. Over the last 100-plus years, many attempts have been made to call it Tahoma or Tacoma or some variant, which was the name local Indians gave the peak. The word apparently meant "mountain" or "snowy mountain," though there is some disagreement about it. Phillips also says that Lincoln, Harding(!), and Harrison have been other suggestions over the years.

Caleb Maki of the state Department of Natural Resources says that currently the issue of renaming Rainier is closed. The last official attempt to change it was in 1983 when Mt. Tahoma was officially rejected, the board saying "enough is enough." However, a little over a year ago someone contacted the board to say they were going to raise the issue again by proposing either Mt. Tahoma or Mt. Tahhoma. But Maki says no such proposal has yet been received. Seems like something to contemplate over a six-pack of wild Rainiers.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

one of the wonderful aspects of both Hawaii is that everyone who lives there "buys in" to the local mythology. Regardless of their personal place of origin, they embrace the native pronunciation and stories of origin. I believe this has some impact on the overall social fabric. This sense of honoring the past through the eyes of those who came before us - in the case of Hawaii it's polynesian people - is a way of connecting to the place.

How many among us know the meaning of the word Snohomish or Snoqualie and dozens of other words connected to our area and that we use daily? For goodness sakes we can't even agree on meaning for the word Tacoma or is it Tahoma...

Perhaps some effort to identify, understand and celebrate the identity of this place we call home - as it evolved over centuries by the indigenous people would be a way to connect both to it and to one another?

SeattleCB

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

I'd like to see the Mountain renamed Tahoma. While we're at it, let's rename Pierce County to Tahoma County. Why name yourself after a crummy president when you've got a beautiful mountain in your backyard? It might help the county understand that they've got something worth protecting from more poorly planned growth.

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

I propose......"Mt. Mossback" (at least below the 10,000 ft level).

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

What a lot of revisionist hooey. Capt Vancouver did no such thing as name a mountain after someone.

I think that by the time he got to exploring Pungent Sound, he was right sick of the rain. He thought, all in all, that it was rainier there, so he named it that way.

spud

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Your article suggests that Rainier has always been the name of record for the mountain. That's the old Seattle inferiority complex towards former-biggest-city Tacoma raising its head again. I don't have a reference close at hand, but I believe the name was acknowledged almost universally as Mt. Tahoma, everywhere but Seattle, until some time in the 1930s. My suggestion was to return it to its original name, not to re-name it something new.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 1:10 p.m. Inappropriate

According to an article in the NY Times dated Sept 16, 1917, both branches of the state legislatures sent a petion to request changing the name to Mt. Tahoma, and author Theodore Winthrop, author of "The Canoe and the Saddle" raised the issue. The Petition passed the Senate by26 to11, and the hourse 63 to 22. Twenty newspapers opined for the change, only ONE did not. According to the article, "Mount Tahoma will win as surely as Hawaii wond over the very similare cas of the Sandwich Islands..."

December 22, 1924, Time reported that Senator Dill indroduced a resolution to change the name and the U.S. Senate approved the resolution and sent it to the House...

I guess we are still waiting...

Years ago I found a large empty coffee can that West Coast Grocery sold to stores. Amocat Coffee. Tacoma spelled backwards. And the label featured a full sized color drawing of a mountain labled, "Mt. Tahoma".

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 1:33 p.m. Inappropriate

According to Brown and Haley's web site:
(https://www.brown-haley.com/mountain.php)

"The MOUNTAIN® Bar was first put on the market by Brown & Haley in 1915 as the 'Mount Tacoma Bar'. ...By 1923 the name of the bar had changed to just plain 'MOUNTAIN®' due to the fact that its sales were beginning to spread into regions beyond Tacoma and the name 'Mount Tacoma' conflicted with Seattle's name, Mount Rainier, which was beginning to gain ascendancy."

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

While we're thinking about renaming important northwest geographical features, why not choose a new name for the State of Washington. Nothing against old George, but using his name for the state contributes to a significant identity problem. I live in California and many people here think Oregon is the most important and populous state to the north. You can't tell people in any other part of the country that you were born in Washington without receiving some inane response like, "oh, how nice, how far from the White House?" Washington is the only state that has to be identified as a state in national news reports in order to distinguish it from the nation's capital. That's one of the reasons Washington's corner of the country seems to people in the east to be so far off and remote, though it's not really much farther away than California. It's an honor for a state to be named after the first president. But isn't naming the national capital tribute enough? So change all the license plates, highway signs, government stationery, and maps to commemorate the new, great state of ......... It will be worth it.

P.K.

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 2:10 p.m. Inappropriate

by all means rename it Tahoma, better than calling it "old baldy", or "sierra blanca"... perhaps Mt. Fiji East??? Or introduce an "y" so that it would become "Mt. Rainy"??? Right now I forget the name that no end of western mountains are called that stick out their heads like bulldogs.

mikerol

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm thinking that renaming Rainier as Mount Bush Iⅈ might put us on the cutting edge, and do away with all that British stuff. And the state of Washington should definitely be renamed. We could continue with the presidential theme and try Lincoln. Or we could proclaim our business friendliness with Gatesylvania

ngeranios

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 3:20 p.m. Inappropriate

My understanding is that the State of Washington was going to be named Columbia (since it is the main part of Columbia, the Candian part being of course BRITISH Columbia) but that the idea was nixed when someone pointed out that the name would likely get confused with the District of Columbia. Ah, history's little ironies. But Columbia remains as the name of the region's great river, the basin, the plateau, and the highest summit on Mt. Rainier: Columbia Crest, the crest of... Columbia. Of Course all this because Robert Gray named the big river for his little ship, the Columbia Rediviva.

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 4:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Danreedmiller is correct...

The Washington Territory was a historic organized territory of the United States that was formed in February 8, 1853 from the portion of the Oregon Territory north of the lower Columbia River and north of the 46th parallel east of the Columbia. A first draft of the bill named the area "Columbia Territory," but the name honoring George Washington was proposed by Congressman Richard H. Stanton of Kentucky.

As an interesting aside, the original boundaries included all of the present day State, as well as northern Idaho and Montana west of the continental divide.

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 4:38 p.m. Inappropriate

I say we should name it tribal casino mtn.Give me a break why do we need to rename everything because it's the feel good politicly correct thing to do.

bigdaddy

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 6:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, please, the obvious choice is Mt. Obama! It even rhymes with Tahoma-
but seriously, what would happen to all of Seattle's ultra hip yellow labradors and children named Rainier if we changed the name? How about a name change like King County went though years ago - where we just changed which King we named it after (MLK vs. ??). With just a small change in spelling and pronounciation we have the famous poet: Rainer Maria Rilke.

Jokes aside, I'm quite attached to the name Rainier for the mountain. But I'm totally up for changing Washington's name. How about North Oregon? Or South Columbia? Or maybe Rediviva? That sounds like a recession buster!

gbvik

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 6:44 p.m. Inappropriate

It's overdue for a major eruption. Tear it down and replace it with a cavern and pedestrian promenade.

Jason_B

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 8:08 p.m. Inappropriate

"el capitan " is the name for no end of mountains that jut their chins out over highways in the southwest and that finally resurface out of my weather beaten mind...

mikerol

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 8:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm totally in favor of it, Knute, it's an idea that should have legs. It'll take somebody with drive to push it through. And let's change Mt. Baker back to Koma Kulshan while we're at it. Adams and St. Helens should be reconsidered as well. And congratulations to whoever found that photo taken from one of the few vantage points where one doesn't see visible logging in the foreground.

Posted Tue, Jan 27, 9:28 p.m. Inappropriate

I never appreciated Mt. Rainier, my family has always called it Tahoma, meaning above everything...there was a biblical translation meaning "next to heaven." The Nisquallys thought heaven was where we are. By the way, Rainier is not correct either.... the mans name was Peter Riegnier some how that was changed to Rainier. Another ugly trashing of the volcanos true name for over 3,000 years. Someday we must return Tahoma to it's proper place.... that might take an eruption. I hope to live till that day.
Tahomajim

Tahoma

Posted Wed, Jan 28, 3:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I would like to see more interest in the original names of our landmarks. It's not a matter of finding a new name, but reclaiming the old ones. We should take down Rainier and put up Tahoma. We should also rename Puget Sound with the original Chinook term "Whulge."

Posted Wed, Jan 28, 8:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Chinook was the primary language of tribes from this area.
I could compromise on this.... I think Puget Whulge is perfect! We would not have to explain what Sound means. Reclaiming our past traditional names is best. That movement can begin NOW!

Tahoma

Posted Wed, Jan 28, 11:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Chinook (technically called Chinook Jargon) was actually just a trade language/lingua franca that tribes used all up the Northwest coast to communicate--and Chinook Jargon has lots of French borrowings, too, from early European traders. As a trade language, no one spoke it as their "first" or "native" language.

The main language of tribes around here were actually all the dialects of Coast Salish, including Lushootseed (which Chief Si'atlh spoke), Skagit, Snohomish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, etc.

smacgry

Posted Thu, Jan 29, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

You do all realize that if you bring back Koma Kulshan and Tahoma, the Pacific Northwest's largest city will eventually end up being called Duwamps.

It does bring up a larger question: it is generally accepted that there have only ever been two populations in this area — the Native Americans and the settlers. So the Native American names are the original names. What about in, say, Europe, Asia, Africa — where there have been waves after waves of invaders? Whose name is the "true" name for the place?

I am all for name changing when it's appropriate (see my article last month on Negro Creek [http://crosscut.com/2008/12/03/history/18675/]), but there's always the danger of taking things too far.

Posted Thu, Jan 29, 7:23 p.m. Inappropriate

I absolutely would support Duwumps.

Posted Thu, Jan 29, 9:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Just remember that if you change the name of "Puget Sound" to "Whulge", the announcers on KUOW and KXOT will feel compelled to refer to it as "The Whulge."

dbreneman

Posted Sun, Feb 1, 6:14 a.m. Inappropriate

How about Mount Doom?

Posted Thu, Feb 5, 10:14 a.m. Inappropriate

well, is it rain-ier there?

AmyLander

Posted Thu, Feb 5, 10:14 a.m. Inappropriate

well, is it rain-ier there?

AmyLander

Posted Thu, Feb 5, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

I can see the headlines now: Down in the Duwumps

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 9:50 p.m. Inappropriate

www.restorenativenames.org and restore native names to sacred sites on Facebook, appreciate everyone's support, was a lot of work, but was able to get the state's Board of Geo. Names re established, and this time to include Tribal members, 2 actually, so you're welcome:) Seeya at the World Conference of Geo. Names next week in Hawai'i!
Reminder: "those who say it can't be done, should not interfere with those that are doing it" lol

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »